Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #242 with Mark Sanborn: What Skills Do You Need to Moderate a Panel?

Professional Panel Moderator Kristin Arnold asks Mark Sanborn, Leadership Keynote Speaker, panel moderator, and member of the US Speaker Hall of Fame to share his ideas on the skills needed to facilitate a robust panel discussion at meetings, conferences, and conventions.


Video Transcript

Kristin: What kind of skills are needed to engage the panelists in a robust conversation?

Mark: I think that some of those skills really are not nearly as sexy as most moderators would think. The first one is, just the willingness to prepare and to do a deep dive. I think what makes a moderator successful, or what makes anybody successful, is as much their preparation as it is their onstage performance. I’m always willing to spend a little more time with the people who are going to be on my panel doing the research whether it’s online or some other means and that preparation really pays off handsomely because I go in thoroughly prepared and more importantly, because of my work before the live event, the panelists go in more prepared. 

Then, I think the second skill set is to be really interested in what the panelists have to say. I mean the kiss of death for a moderator is the moderator that puts the focus or the attention on him or herself. You know, it’s about proving to the audience how glib and smart and intelligent they are, and the panelists look like props. That’s an unforgiveable sin, and then again, I think it’s also the ability to craft good questions and that’s a little harder perhaps than it seems but as importantly is the ability to rift off the answers to those good questions.

Some panelists will provide you a lot to work with, other panelists, even with preparation it’s often like pulling teeth. Sometimes a well-prepared panelist freezes on stage and you’ve got to kind of talk them down from the ledge and get them to open up, but it’s that ability to ask good questions and then to play off those good questions.

So, I think that what really helps develop that skill set is kind of a broad bandwidth to have a really broad perspective of what’s going on and to have a lot of different reference points that you can anchor too, whether it’s current culture or you know, what’s going on in sports, or what’s going in a particular industry. Those are some of the skill sets that ultimately make for a good panelist, but you know, the thing that you can’t replace is experience- the more you do it and the more you pay attention to how you do it, the better you’ll become.


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Kristin Arnold, professional panel moderator, and high stakes meeting facilitator is on a crusade to make all panel discussions informative, interactive, and interesting.   Specifically, she wants to help YOU become a better panel moderator.  Why?  Because 95% of annual meetings have panel discussions – and according to the 2014 Panel Report, it’s a fifty-fifty proposition they are any good at all!  Expectations decrease dramatically when your attendees walk in and see the traditional draped head-table with microphones on short stands.  There are sooooo many other ways to have a stimulating conversation!  So let’s increase the probability of success for your next panel discussion with these resources.

And, you can always go back to the playlist for more Powerful Panel Discussion Tips!

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